The Hope Collection Brings Hope to Artisans and Oberlin


Mallika Pandey

The Hope Collection by INTO is a new fair trade store on East College Street.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has taken a toll on small businesses in the City of Oberlin and beyond, the recent opening of fair trade store the Hope Collection by INTO is one example of the pandemic opening doors rather than closing them. The Hope Collection is run by an Oberlin alum through the nonprofit Illuminating Nations Through Offering an Opportunity. INTO creates relationships with artisans around the globe, providing them a way to sell to the American market while working in safe conditions for a fair wage. 

Francesca Barbee, OC ’03, and Malisha Richardson, OC ’03, founded INTO in the spring of their senior year, utilizing connections that Barbee made studying abroad in Ecuador as an undergraduate. Since then, INTO has grown exponentially and now works with partner artisans in 16 different countries, while retaining a particular focus on Ecuador. The current pop-up storefront on College St. will be open for six months.

Beth Jonap, a resident who recently moved to Oberlin to be closer to her family, shared with the Review how nice it has been to be able to shop locally for gifts to express gratitude to the people in her life while also supporting people around the world. She also appreciated the shop’s thoughtful ownership. 

“They are willing to take the time to talk to you about anything and tell you about where it came from, who made it, how it was made, all the information that you might be interested in,”  Jonap said. “And there are very nice informative signs at each different item, in some cases that show the exact person that is responsible for [creating it]. Like the fellow that does the little bowl that I got, there was a whole full sheet with a picture of him and his story. I just think that makes it a lot more fun than shopping at Walmart.” 

Oberlin resident Beth Jonap purchased a small wooden bowl which she uses to burn her favorite scented candles. (Courtesy of Beth Jonap)

Hearing artists’ stories is central to the experience of buying anything from INTO. Barbee began working with one of her partner artisans, Elena Lema, when Lema was working by herself on her family’s looms. Over several years, and with the help of microloans and INTO’s continued support, Lema built her own business — and now she and her family have an entire workshop. 

“We offered her an opportunity, and she just had amazing wisdom and frugality and was really a go-getter,” Barbee said. “And so now she has not only built her own home, but she’s also built a whole workshop with three different machines. And so she is able to provide for her children, who are now attending university.” 

Lema’s craft has also been something she can pass on to her sons. 

“The really cool thing is that, along the way, she has taught her sons how to assist her,” Barbee said. “When you walk into the Hope Collection, there are some really nice [throw blankets] that you’ll see, and those throws are all finished by her son, who’s attending university to become a doctor. His work with us affords them the opportunity to pay for his transportation, to get to university.” 

The Lema Family makes all of the Hope Collection’s Light Wrap scarves, the original of which was first designed as an engagement gift for Barbee. (Courtesy of INTO )

College fourth-year Gwen Cappel-McCoy visited the Hope Collection and appreciated both the selection of items and the values the store represents. 

“I think it’s a really cool store, but more importantly, an interesting and inspirational example of what Obies can do with their skills and ambitions after leaving Oberlin,” Cappel-McCoy wrote in a message to the Review. 

The Hope Collection features INTO’s entire line of products in one brick-and-mortar store, much of which was previously available only at festivals, conventions, or online. Barbee is grateful for the opportunity to spotlight the work of all of INTO’s partner artisans together. 

“We’re just really excited to be able to highlight all of our products in one location and also offer those to the community where we live and where we have our strongest ties,” Barbee said. “Friends and family and people who would have known about what we’ve done for a long time are able to actually come in and see all of those products.” 

The Hope Collection by INTO is located at 551 East College St, where Cowhaus Creamery was previously. A list of products and further information are available on INTO’s website.